Monday, February 3, 2014

Too Much Curiousity, Too Little Time

"I am in the sere and yellow leaf, dried and shriveled, about to fall and become one with my millions of predecessors. Here I sit, by the fireplace in winter, and out on the veranda when the days are warm, unable to do anything except live over in memory the stirring years I passed upon the frontier." (J.W. Schultz's introduction to "My Life as an Indian")

I met myself as an old man last summer, in Kalispell, during a lull at the local art museum's August show.

One of those fragile old men who takes short steps from one point to the next slowly made his way into the booth, stopping to rest in front of a wall of my photographs. These guys always have unexpected back-stories so, to the chagrin of my wife/business partner, I struck up a conversation.

As a young man, he worked the trains running between Montana and northern Idaho. Old trains, pulled by steam engines. Those old engines were fickle, he explained, as other people floated in and out of my awareness. Each steam engine had a unique personality that you had to learn or bad things could happen. Like the one that exploded, killing two of his co-workers.

He started out shoveling coal into blazing furnaces. It was a delicate dance between coal, water and steam that kept the engine alive, kept the train running on time. This required strong, talented men. But everything changed when the engines converted to diesel. Far fewer people were needed to run diesel trains, and whole careers were shoveled onto the scrapheap of history.

The old guy told me that he still had a few old black and white photos from those days, so I invited him to bring them back next day so we could look them over together. My business partner was not pleased. This old man had lots of train memories to share, but with each passing year he finds fewer and fewer people who would stop and listen to the old stories, look at his old pictures. I seemed to be the last person still interested in his career, his life.

When I was a young man, I started my "career" as a darkroom tech, processing other people's film and racing to keep up with a newspaper's never-ending deadlines. Squeezing images out of thin negatives was a dance I learned during those early years. When digital photography arrived, 20 years later, newspaper photographers started their great decline towards obscurity, into the forgotten boneyard of extinct careers.

It's hard to watch, depressing to read the struggling photographers' stories in every single issue of "News Photographer" magazine. I haven't subscribed for years, but an old friend sends his copies to me. Sometimes I force myself to sit down and read them, sometimes I just can't. It's like watching a beloved grandfather fade, and there's nothing you can do.

"Car Problems" by xkcd
You may have noticed this blog running thin over the past months. Then again, maybe not. But it seems 2013 was busier than previous years - not necessarily in a good way - especially during the already short Montana summer. In and out of the photo business, I wove Harlequin Duck fieldwork around a growing addiction to late-night mothing and astronomy together into a blur of sleep deprivation. Intentional sleep loss is a common occurrence for me that, I recently learned, generates the same brain-damaging chemicals as a concussion.

Something has to give.

The amount of photography information available on the web continues to grow exponentially. Some small crumbs of it are even worth reading. But my blog falls closer to "old man memories" than any pertinent, timely information. So, subconsciously at first, my writing time has shifted away from photography and back towards biology. I'm still passionate about making photographs, but my interest in writing about it is in decline. I never was much of a businessman, and self-promotion really rubs my hackles the wrong way.

And so, this blog space will update intermittently for the foreseeable future. I'll still post from time to time, but my passion for writing is now tied up in my natural history blog, Wild & Free Montana. Don't worry, I'm well aware that my words won't budge the needle, won't change the world, and might interest fewer and fewer people. I'm okay with that. But as long as my passion is there, that's where I need to be.

"Beauty" by xkcd

1 comment:

  1. I, for one, will miss your photography posts here on the blog but your other blog has some good photo-related stuff too. Thanks for helping me become a better photographer through your sharing on this blog.